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Annie Hayes

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HR Practitioner’s Diary: Training in foreign tongues

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HR consultant Sue Kingston, our very own ‘Bridget Jones’ files her latest diary extract including rescuing a food business from a potentially disastrous health and safety inspection, handling training with a group of non-English speakers, dating disasters and triumphs and more on those vital wine and chocolate statistics.

March 2006
I just don’t know where the year is going. It’s nearly time for those Easter eggs to be devoured and the delight of fresh green buds appearing in the hedgerows. This is always such a lovely, fresh time of the year and I’m glad to say one of my clients has spring in the air spurring them on to greater things at long last.

Surviving the food inspection:
Even in the absence of a solid business plan, Benny, Miss Diane and Amy Turtle are slowly but surely working towards a better future with their cuisine business which was heading for failure in December 2005, but by surrounding themselves with a ‘sharper’ team there is a very steady albeit solid recovery underway – hurrah!

March saw the need to recruit a further 15 production staff due to increasing customer demand for a variety of innovative dishes now enhancing their portfolio.

Demands on my time increased therefore from two to three days per week and together we faced a very real and vital EFSIS (European Food Safety Inspection Service) audit at the end of March. Failure to pass this audit would have resulted in potential closure of the business.

Their technical consultant (Meg) and I have worked flat out for the last five weeks updating company procedures and policies (this had not been done by our predecessors for about two years.)

I also had to co-ordinate the training of the 40 or so staff on basic food hygiene and chemical safety training. This needed to be done with minimum disruption to the very hectic production schedule in order to meet customer demands, producing some very real challenges.

Imagine, if you will, a training group of eight people – two English spoken, one Lithuanian and five Polish. A Polish chap, Art, was able to be our translator from English to Polish, but no one spoke Lithuanian. However, one of the Polish members (Bob) spoke Russian which our Lithuanian (Irman) understood!

So we undertook chemical safety training being spoken in English, Polish and Russian! The trainer looked quite bemused throughout, he has never experienced anything like it before, but we all took our exam at the end, and passed – a great result and great fun too!

The training overall was quite a challenge as I had to ensure I had appropriate translators throughout the various groups and days. We were not able to just isolate a Polish group and then, say, a Lithuanian group because the production workforce are heavily mixed and it depended on their availability to be taken off line for up to six hours at a time.

I completed various tasks over the five week period including the updating and production of a comprehensive induction pack (in English and Polish), plus issuing employment contracts for all staff, updating the training procedures and logs for all five areas within the business (kitchen, production, packaging, storage and despatch), each requiring 31 subjects to be trained in and, last but not least, updating the organisation chart!

Everyone responded superbly to mine and Meg’s requests to get things done and I am so relieved and glad to say the EFSIS auditor awarded the company a Grade A pass. Benny, Miss Diane and Amy were absolutely over the moon as they hoped to scrape through with no more than a grade B.

At the end of a very intense two day audit we were delighted to crack open the bubbly and celebrate in style.

Over the years I have experienced many situations when the pressure is really on not just me, but a complete team. It never ceases to amaze me how people can really pull together when something so critical is at stake. You can just see the reward on everyone’s faces and in their smiles when the plan comes together in true ‘A-Team’ style!

This company is emerging as a real fighter and I’m so glad to be a part of their support network to makes things happen.

Sick building syndrome:
I read an article recently regarding the above syndrome and could identify with quite a few points it raised.

Have any of you ever felt ‘sick’ as a result of your work surroundings?

Think about this, as I’m sure many of you would say “Yes” to the above question, but more in terms perhaps of your work, impossible bosses, annoying colleagues, unsociable hours, poor terms and conditions and pay rates etc. But think about your surroundings – how many buildings have made you feel physically sick? In my career I can think of at least three.

  • A meat processing manufacturer where the offices were tatty, cold, smelly and dirty. Windows were never cleaned and the floor was virtually black with ground in grime and grease. The view out of the office windows into the production yard would very often consist of large metal containers pilled high with pigs heads, tripe, trotters etc, ready for them all to be cooked down and made into various by-products such as dog food, gelatine and tallow (for soap). It was a grotty building and environment and the rates of absence due to ‘sickness’ were very high indeed.
  • A specialist filing system company. They didn’t manufacturer, but would import and then store in a large warehouse ready for distribution. The building visually was actually quite nice, but to work in the offices felt like you were being starved of air. There was no air conditioning and even with the windows open, the building still had a stale, stuffy feeling about it. Many of the staff suffered persistent headaches, sore throats and queasiness.
  • A food processing manufacturer where the majority of the offices have no fixed heating provision, only portable oil filled heaters, therefore the air is really dry. There is a constant smell of ‘raw’ food from the production area. Many of the office staff complain of feeling cold, they have persistent coughs and sniffles and there is a high occurrence of eye infections in the production area.

With the above examples, some of these buildings feel ‘unhealthy’ to work in, that is poor quality air/circulation/heating. Other contributors are the actual environment depending on the nature of the business that is production and manufacturing etc.

I wonder how many business owners look at the environment they are providing their employees with and look at very real ways of improving their surroundings and facilities to make things at least ‘feel’ healthier? I dare say quite of lot of sick building syndrome is purely circumstantial, but at least that is something that can often be changed.

When you think of how much employee absence costs a business, it must be worth a business investing that money more wisely in producing a ‘happy’ space in which to work?

Has anyone got any experiences you would like to share with us?

What to make of a recent report that suggests we should employ those with a history of bad behaviour.

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Annie Hayes

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